MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The controversial statue of a comfort woman along Roxas Boulevard in Manila was removed recently from its site.
Photos on Saturday, April 28, showed a backhoe digging at the site of the statue.
In a statement sent to Rappler on Sunday, April 29, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said the statue and two other monuments were removed "to give way for the improvement of Roxas [Boulevard] Baywalk Area."
The DPWH will be constructing "lateral drainage at Roxas [Boulevard] southbound near President Quirino Avenue," the agency added. Reinforced concrete pipes will be installed in that area, which the DPWH said is the "lowest elevation" along the boulevard.
"At least two more footbridges will be installed across Roxas Boulevard, one at CCP Central Bank and another at President Quirino area," the DPWH said.
According to an ABS-CBN News report on Saturday, the statue was removed by the DPWH to give way to a drainage improvement project in the area.
The report quoted Manila City administrator Ericson Alcovendaz as saying the DPWH itself conducted the statue's removal on Friday night, with city officials supervising the operation.
A separate dZMM report described the removal of the comfort woman statue as "pansamantala (temporary)".
Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler
Women's group Gabriela strongly condemned the removal of the statue, saying it's a "desecration of Filipino women's dignity as it casts a foul insult on hundreds of Filipina sex slaves victimized under the Japanese occupation."
The statue, the group said in a statement, "supposedly serves as a reminder to future generations of Japan's atrocities and abuses against Filipino women during the Second World War, and women's historical victimization in times of wars of aggression."
"With the statue's removal, Japan once again succeeded in imposing its revisionist take on WWII on puppet regimes like the Duterte regime," Gabriela added.
Gabriela also called the move "highly despicable," noting that similar statues in other countries weren't removed despite "threats of diplomatic and economic sanctions from Japan."
"What has been left of the marker will be a stark reminder of how the Duterte regime pimped the dignity of women and the Filipino nation in exchange for multi-billion Japanese loans and technical assistance."
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
The comfort woman statue, which bore the official marker of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, was "erected without permits," said lawyer Edward Serapio, secretary to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, in an earlier interview.
The issue of World War II comfort women remains a sensitive one for Japan.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano argued in January 2018 that the country's "long-term" relationship with Japan is at stake due to the controversy.